Review: NCAA Football 11 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

NCAA Football 11
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Genre: Sports Simulation
Release Date: 07/13/2010

The name “EA Sports” is synonymous with video game sports at this point in history, and they have taken a near stranglehold on the genre. Some would argue that since EA Sports started eating up the competition, their products have seen little-to-no advancement on a year-to-year basis; extremists might even say that the product has been on a decline since entering the current generation of systems. Though there is some validity to both these statements, my opinion of the company, specifically their college football series, has been on a steady uphill climb, with NCAA Football 10 being the crème of the collegiate football crop.

EA Sports has been publishing their annual college football game since 1993 with the release of Bill Walsh College Football for the Sega Genesis, Sega CD, and Super Nintendo Entertainment Systems. Bill Walsh was featured on the cover and title for two years until the name changed to College Football USA in 1995. It wasn’t until 1997, with the release of NCAA Football 98, that EA Sports found the name that would become the mainstay. Through the highs (NCAA Football 2004, NCAA Football 09) and the lows (NCAA Football 06, NCAA Football 08), I have been playing the franchise since around 1998 when my then-favorite player graced the cover: University of Michigan’s Heisman winning cornerback, Charles Woodson.

The only thing that matters here, though, is whether or not NCAA Football 11 is worth a purchase. Are there enough upgrades from last year’s game to warrant another $60, or does this fall victim to the rinse-and-repeat cycle that EA Sports has put out in the past? The only way to find out is to keep on reading.

Story/Modes

Since 2008 when EA Sports added Online Dynasty mode to the NCAA Football series there have been no noteworthy additions to the game modes in the series. Unfortunately, the tide is holding steady this year.

Like most of EA Sports’ franchises, NCAA Football 11 is not lacking for things to do. Beginning with the offline options, there are four different Play Now modes. Exhibition allows pigskin fans to jump in with any one of the 120 Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams and play a quick game of football. A second Play Now option is entitled One-Button mode, which is exactly as it sounds: most of the controls are routed to the A button. This mode is aimed at casual players who have a hard time understanding which button to push at what time; instead the player only has to hit the A button and the appropriate action will occur, whether that be a spin move, a juke move, a pass, or a tackle. Though this mode wasn’t aimed at players such as myself, I can see its merit. The third option is Practice mode, which allows new players to learn the controls and nuances of the game. This is not exactly a great load of fun and most will ignore this mode completely. Finally, there is Mascot Mash Up, in which the player can compete in games like Sparty the Spartan of Michigan State versus Mike the Tiger of LSU in full 11-on-11 action. This mode, like One-Button mode, is aimed at families and casual gamers, but aside from a couple over-the-top spin moves and jukes, and the mascot player models, there is little to set this mode apart from Exhibition and it feels tacked-on.

Moving to the offline Career options, the gamer has two choices: Dynasty or Road to Glory. I want to start with the mode I was most disappointed in this year, and that is Road to Glory. It isn’t that Road to Glory is terrible, it’s just that it is almost identical to the Road to Glory I was playing back in NCAA Football 09. This is lazy on the part of EA, and a major disappointment. Every year I will create a scrambling quarterback and try to make him an overpowered, too-fast Heisman trophy winner, and I found myself playing Road to Glory more than Dynasty for the first time last year.

Before I go any further, let me explain what Road to Glory is all about for the unversed. Road to Glory mode allows gamers to create a new player from scratch (or take a current player), select a position (quarterback, halfback, wide receiver, left end, right end, defensive tackle, left outside linebacker, right outside linebacker, middle linebacker, cornerback, free safety, or strong safety), a tendency (for example, a quarterback can be balanced, a speedy option QB, or a pocket passer, while a middle linebacker might be a run stopper, balanced, or a coverage guy), and then all those fun personal options (height, weight, hometown, clothing, and so on). From here, this newly created player starts out in the high school state playoffs of their senior year. The coach calls the plays from the sidelines and the player executes them to the best of their ability, and only controls this one, created character. Scouts will visit as the player tries to make his way through four rounds, impressing the scouts all along the way. The better the player performs, the higher caliber recruit they become, and the better scholarship options they will have. I had a 5-star option quarterback, so I accepted an offer at University of Michigan to play second string QB. I could have, however, picked Alabama, Ohio State, or any of the other top 25 schools in the land, but I would have been third string and it would have taken me longer to get the starting job. At this junction, if I use my created quarterback as an example, I had to work in practices each day until I earned enough points to snag the starting job. I got lucky because I only needed 25 points to take the starting job, and I was the starter by opening day at the Big House. The goal in Road to Glory mode is to build this player up, win games, eventually end his college career as a campus legend and then get drafted into the NFL (if the gamer owns Madden NFL 11, they can transfer the player to that game and continue their players career through retirement).

This is where the problems start to shine. The major qualm I have with this mode (and have since I’ve started playing it) is that, as a quarterback, I need to have a little bit more control over my team than, say, a right end. Quarterbacks are the field marshals; success or failure rests on their shoulders more often than not. In Road to Glory mode, on the other hand, I don’t even get the option to send a man in motion. If I see a linebacker lined up, unblocked, ready to take down my halfback, who I am supposed to be tossing the ball too, I want to call over my big tight end and have him pick up the block. This is not allowed in Road to Glory mode. Instead, I am forced to audible out completely, or lose yardage. This seems like an easy enough fix, and I was shocked to see that this problem still existed in NCAA Football 11 after dealing with it for two years now.

Aside from this major issue, the learning curve for playing anything other quarterback might be daunting for some and put him or her off the mode completely. I have a hard time enjoying anything other than quarterback or halfback, but I am sure there are some people who will thrive with cornerbacks, and linebackers. Speaking of defensive positions, I was left wondering who the hell decided on the camera angles? For example, punts and field goal blocks have the camera on the sidelines, perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. This makes for an awful time trying to block punts/field goals. When playing linebacker, the camera sits at an angle, which isn’t always a problem. The predicament arrives when I have the urge to move that camera angle to place it directly behind me and I discover that that isn’t an option. This is another example of something I hoped would be corrected by now.

It’s not that Road to Glory doesn’t have it’s strengths, it is just harder to see them because the same nagging weaknesses are still popping up. For someone who is new to the series, this mode should provide hours of fun if they find a position they enjoy playing. For veterans of the mode, however, disappointment awaits in Road to Glory.

The final offline Career option – arguably the bread-and-butter of any sports game – is the Dynasty mode. Here, players select a team and go for the BCS National Championship year after year, playing fully customizable season schedules, recruiting classes for the future, deciding when and if to accept a new coaching offer at another school, and battling it out each and every week, facing off against their teams biggest rivals.

I maintain that there are two types of football gamers in the world: the ones that buy the game for franchise/dynasty mode, and the ones who buy it to play online. I fall into the first category, and will purchase just about any sports title if it has a franchise mode, or, at the very least, a season mode where I can compete through to a final championship.

There are so many different small things that go into NCAA Football 11‘s Dynasty mode that it would be impossible to cover them all, so I will hit on the major points.

First and foremost: recruiting. Recruiting is often scrutinized as either too hard or too easy. EA Tiburon has tried to offset this argument by adding in a difficulty slider specific to recruiting. Players can now choose to have Heisman difficulty gameplay, but Varsity difficulty recruiting, or vice versa. This helps add to the excitement of recruiting, and is a good way to adhere to all the different skill levels of gamers out there.

Aside from the difficulty changes of recruiting, EA Tiburon has added a new lottery-type system for topic selection. Each week the coach is allowed 10 hours to spend on recruiting. After the coach has set up the recruiting board based on needs and desires, he or she can then talk with however many players they want to in that 10-hour allotment window. They may want to spend 60 minutes (the maximum) on a 5-star quarterback that could change the face of the franchise, while they only want to spend 10 minutes (the minimum) on a 2-star right end recruit who will probably never be a starter. The choice is up to the gamer. What is left to chance, however, is exactly what the coach will be allowed to talk about. The game randomly chooses a subject for the coach to discuss, be it coach prestige, proximity to home, academic prestige, or something of the like. The player is given the option to change the topic up to 3 times in any given conversation. This was a great addition that I found rejuvenated the stale recruiting mode of the past. Although it too got repetitive after using it for umpteen weeks, it is a better system then in previous editions.

Another change in recruiting is that the recruits do not hang up on the coach anymore (at least in my findings); this helps learn more about each recruit, and keeps the strategy focus on earning more points instead of just not wasting the time spent on talking to the player. With my West Virginia University dynasty, I was able to garner a few 5-star recruits, a couple 4-star, and some 3-star, which is about what I would consider “right” for WVU. My simulated Alabama dynasty further proved to me that the recruiting was accurate and realistic, as Alabama ended in the top 5 recruiting classes almost every season, and finished 20th (the lowest of all 15 simulated seasons) only once after a lackluster year.

The other key point that I want to talk about is one that was brought up by some other players of the game. It was said that the Dynasty mode was broken because EA Tiburon lowered the overall rating of the incoming recruiting classes. This problem grew exponentially as the seasons went on, thus, most teams that started season 1 with A+ ratings in offense, defense and overall, were down to C+ teams by season 20. I have done my own study on this subject, and here are the results. I simulated 15 seasons with the #1 team in the country in season 1 (Alabama):

2010 Season:
#1/Alabama
Offense – A+
Defense – A+
Overall – A+

10 Seasons In:
Alabama
Offense – A
Defense – B
Overall – B+
#1 (Texas A&M)
Offense – A-
Defense – B+
Overall – B+

15 Seasons In:
Alabama
Offense – B-
Defense – B+
Overall – B
#1 (Ohio State):
Offense – A
Defense – A-
Overall – A-

The problem I have with these stats is that they do not prove a lot. I can confirm that, in fact, the overall quality of the NCAA has degraded, with the overall #1 team only reaching A- status instead of A+. Honestly, though, this decline is not large enough to consider the Dynasty mode “broken”, and would be barely noticeable to anyone who wasn’t actively searching for it. Instead, I say that this is a noteworthy problem and hope that EA will correct it in the future.

Outside of the changes to recruiting, there has been little to move Dynasty mode forward. Fortunately for EA Tiburon, the current state of the Dynasty mode is sufficient. There are still times when I don’t understand why I am not getting a BCS title bid, even after going undefeated with a tough schedule, but this is not too far from the reality of the real BCS. Top 25 Polls, Conference Standings, the Heisman Watch, the Toughest Places to Play, Players of the Week and Bowl Projections still make Dynasty mode the mode to play in the NCAA Football series.

Shifting from the comfort of the artificial intelligence (AI), there are two principal online options: ranked and unranked games, and Online Dynasty mode. There isn’t much to say about the unranked and ranked games other than the fact that there was little slowdown, which delivered an improved experience in the online game. Some of my games started out with a lot of lag, but after the opening kickoff, this disappeared almost completely and the rest of the games played on without a hitch.

Online Dynasty was added to the NCAA Football series back in NCAA Football 09, and has been a feature that I have enjoyed since its release. Online Dynasty mode is exactly what it appears to be: Dynasty mode online. The player can set up an online dynasty with up to 12 players, can create custom conferences, and can even set custom difficulty slider options. From there, the mode proceeds just like the offline Dynasty mode that I covered earlier. Players are able to recruit against each other to win the best prospects from across the country, and compete through multiple seasons. The commissioner of the online dynasty is able to progress through each week after every player has completed their recruiting and played their game, or can advance it when they see fit (if one of the player’s is out of town or not getting around to playing their game). If the player is scheduled to compete against another user-controlled team, they need to find a way to play each other just like in a ranked or unranked online game, but when the player is scheduled against a computer controlled team, they can play whenever they have time, and do not have to wait for anyone else to be online with them. When a player is able to find the right group of people who are dedicated to their teams and willing to play on a consistent basis, this can be one of the most fun modes in NCAA Football 11.

A nice upgrade for the Online Dynasty mode is Dynasty Wire, an online story generator for the dynasty. Players can post news story about the upcoming games, and can communicate with other players. This is akin to the Madden NFL 10 online franchise manager from last year, and those that used that program will be accustomed to the Dynasty Wire.

The final mode available in NCAA Football 11 is one that took college football gamers by storm last year, and is back again this year: TeamBuilder. This is a web-based team generator that allows players to create whole teams from scratch. This is an excellent option that anyone is able to check out by visiting this website. Although that website is only the creation of the team, it gives an idea of what this feature is all about. After creating a team, including picking team logos, colors, field, jerseys, and players, the gamer can then upload the team to their system by accessing the feature on the game disc. TeamBuilder teams can be used in Exhibition mode, Dynasty mode (by replacing one of the current FBS teams) or Online Dynasty mode if the commissioner allows it. The transition from the web-based program to the on-field play is great, and the teams look sharp and realistic, like they were in the game from the get-go instead of a user-created team. This feature is hugely popular, and I expect it to see some improvements for next year. As is, though, TeamBuilder is a great addition to NCAA Football 11.

There are a ton of modes to digest in NCAA Football 11, but that is to be expected at this point in the series. Not one single mode has seen any huge improvements, but expect the 2012 season of games to change this. Each mode brings something different to the table, and gamers will find a plethora of different options to wade through until they find the one mode that will eat up most of their time. This year, for me, it’s Dynasty mode, and I imagine a lot of people would say the same. Those looking to only worry about themselves, and not the other 10 players on the field might have more fun with the Road to Glory option, even if it is one of the least improved upon modes in the game. The bragging rights junkies will be happy jumping online in ranked matches, or – for a more committed experience – the Online Dynasty mode. There is something for everyone in NCAA Football 11.

Story/Modes Rating: Good

Graphics

If there is one thing I can always count on EA Sports to bring to the table, it’s beautiful graphics. NCAA Football 11 does not disappoint; this is the best-looking football game to date, and there have been some improvements that help make the game look more realistic. A nice addition to the graphics has to be the fact that on-field officials are (finally) back in the game. Not since the days of the Xbox and Playstation 2 have college football gamers been able to see on-field officials during each play. Though it is long overdue, it is great to see them on the field again. Another big advancement is the jersey degradation. As the game proceeds, jerseys start to show signs of wear just like they do in real life. This is something small that adds a lot to the realism of the game. The weather effects looks great, adding a lot to the atmosphere to the game when heading into a snowy day or a rainy evening. There are even footprints in the snow, and the players breath can be seen. The player models are diverse this year, and the difference between a small, speedy halfback and a meaty, slow defensive lineman is intimidating. There is a lot of good to be said about the graphics, and this is only the tip of the iceberg.

One of the most important aspects, and probably the hardest to get perfect in a sports game, are the animations. NCAA Football 11 is filled with different pre-set animations for when a player jukes, spins, dives, catches, and so on. Though EA has been talking about how the player can now string different moves together to make for a more seamless, realistic gameplay experience, this is far from perfect. There are times when juking a defender that see the defender react too strongly, and the same canned animation plays virtually every time a juke is performed, rendering it unrealistic. It is obvious that steps have been taken, and improvements have been made to the animation engine to make it seem more realistc, but I don’t think we’ll ever get to mimic the nuances of the real thing with the current engine of animation. There needs to be something new, something like what Backbreaker has introduced in football games with the Euphoria Engine (but there needs to be a lot of refinement even on that). Generally, I am just not satisfied with the way the animations work in NCAA Football 11 even though they are some of the best in the series. EA Tiburon proves that there can be more advancement made here, and hopefully next season will have some major changes here to get this “right”.

The Pro-Tak gang tackling animation that debuted in last year’s Madden NFL 10 has been added to NCAA Football 11. This animation does a bang up job of adding a sense of realism to the field, even if it does go a little overboard at times (8 big defenders tackling one speedy halfback, for example). The crew at EA has also added in helmet numbers to teams that are supposed to have them (like Alabama), which was a minor annoyance in previous editions of the game. The final graphical enhancement comes in the form of custom team entrances. For the first time in the series, University of Michigan taps the banner on their exit from the locker rooms, Notre Dame taps the “Play Like a Champion Today” sign, and other famous custom entrances that make the college game unique are in the NCAA Football 11. Some other teams with custom entrances include West Virginia University, Florida State, Texas, Clemson, Miami, Nebraska, and Tennessee. Though some of the entrances are only a bit better than the generic entrances, most are a lot of fun to watch and add an unprecedented amount of excitement and immersion to the game. This is another great feature that I hope gets expanded upon in next year’s title.

The surface appeal of the NCAA Football series has never been better, but there is still work that needs to be done to make some of the animations more fluid and realistic. NCAA Football 11 adds new features this year with helmet numbers for Alabama and custom teams, school-specific entrances, and Pro-Tak gang tackling which help push this game above last year’s in terms graphically.

Graphics Rating: Good

Sound

Lee Corso is no longer providing commentary like he has in the past, but Kirk Herbstreit, and Brad Nessler are still around to deliver the play-by-play and colour work, while Erin Andrews acts as the sideline reporter during games and the head reporter for the Road to Glory progress reports. The commentary tended to fall to the background and I hardly noticed it this year, which is not necessarily a bad thing. When the commentary stands out, it is usually because it of how poor and/or repetitive it is, but I didn’t find that to be the case this year. Not having the “Corsoisms” of years past helps a lot in keeping the commentary fresh, but it is still far from the dynamic commentary provided in NBA 2K10.

The tradition of college football is alive and well with the diverse soundtrack of each schools fight songs, and some schools even have specific chants (like Michigan’s “Go Blue” chant that occurs before kickoffs) that set them apart from one another. I would have liked even more school specific chants (if I saw the student section at Milan Puskar Stadium – home of the West Virginia University Mountaineers – hold up their keys before every kickoff, I would have pissed myself with excitement), but it is good to see this start taking shape. It is not where it could be, but is a strong first step.

The on-field noise is great, helping to define home field advantage, but the crowd could still use some work to be more attentive to what is happening on the field. For example, if I bust off a 50-yard run, I want the stadium to erupt if I am at home as I make my way down the field. This is something that has been missing in this series for as long as I have played it, and I am surprised to see that it has been overlooked again. The hits and the little player conversation (only applicable on an audible) sound as expected, and do nothing but help make the experience more realistic.

Sound Rating: Above Average

Control and Gameplay

It’s impossible for me to mention the graphics and animations of the game without getting into the gameplay, so I have already mentioned my biggest problems with the gameplay earlier. Even with those problems, however, this is smoothest NCAA Football game yet.

The AI is smarter this year, and games feel more varied from week to week. The biggest player in this change has to be the new play styles that each team can take on. West Virginia University has a spread offense, while Ohio State runs multiple schemes, Tennessee runs a pro style, and Texas Tech dominates through the air raid system. The AI will run no huddle offenses, or a slow, methodical offense where appropriate; this adds a lot to the strategy of the game. Inside of this, the player is able to set his or her offensive and defensive gameplans (aggressive, conservative, or balanced) at any point during a game. This will tell the offensive line to hold blocks longer, but risk getting more holding calls, or tells linebackers to watch the receivers while leaving the quarterback open to scrambling opportunities. Gameplans works well because they’re based on a risk and reward system: the player cannot tell his team to be aggressive at trying to strip the ball without risking more broken tackles, for example. These two options – gameplans and play styles – help each game, and each conference feel unique and true.

The big addition to the gameplay, besides play styles, has to be the momentum-based locomotion engine. This feels like the same system that was implemented in Madden NFL 10 with a few more tweaks. There are more broken tackles, which is most likely a result of this system, and stringing moves together is fun and seamless. The new control system, though subtle, allows for the player to brace his impact with a defender by using the right stick to stick his head down and protect the ball, or juke and spin out of the way completely. This helped improve a lackluster running game in last year’s release and has put the running game above Madden NFL 10, which I thought was the best to-date. Unfortunately, most of these controls were aimed to improve the offensive side of the ball, and playing defense remains consistent with NCAA Football 10.

There were a couple main problems with NCAA Football 10’s gameplay that I was hoping would be addressed this season. The first was on option plays when the quarterback wouldn’t always lateral the ball after a defender touched him because he entered into a canned animation. Fortunately, EA Tiburon has opened the quarterback animation up, and the quarterback will throw the ball, or lateral it, until he is physically unable. This is a big step up, and I would like to see them open up more of these animations to make for a more unpredictable feel. The other problem I had was with teammate AI blocking down the field. From my experiences, my teammates would refuse to pick up even the easiest blocks as I tried making my way down the field, rendering the “stay behind the blocker” mantra pointless, and hindering the running game a great deal. EA Tiburon has addressed this issue as well, and now, instead of just smashing down the speed burst and breaking through, it pays off to be patient and wait for the lineman to set blocks for the runner. This is another step that helps set the running game of NCAA Football 11 apart from the pack.

Touching on the passing game, the major noticeable difference here is similar to the quarterback situation: EA Tiburon has opened up the animation, allowing a receiver to make a catch close to the out of bounds line, and continue running up the field. In past years, if the receiver caught the ball within about 5 feet from the out of bounds line, he would automatically step out of bounds thanks to a canned animation. These improvements make the AI especially dangerous through the air. Yes, I have praised the tuning down of two different situational animations, but there are still far too many canned animations in the game. I am excited to see progress being made on this front, but points where a defender will magically warp out of a block and be tackling my running back remain, and the same catch animations will be seen four times on one drive. This needs to be remedied.

In these football games, the changes the player sees from year-to-year is rarely going to be major, and that can be said for NCAA Football 11. These are minor improvements around the board that help make this game more immersive, and the changes with the controls, though subtle, tie right in to making the gameplay feel smoother.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

Replayability

Thanks to both the Online Dynasty and Dynasty modes, there is good reason to come back to NCAA Football 11. The BCS Championship will be easy to achieve for some players, but even they will want to come back for their senior season. Thanks to the nature of the college game, teams lose and gain new players every year; this makes virtually every season in Dynasty mode – online or off – different from the last. This constant cycle of new players adds to the replayability of NCAA Football 11, and is a game that passionate football gamers could enjoy until the next iteration is released. Though there are no unlockables, and no branching storylines (unless the player makes up his or her own in the Dynasty Wires of their Online Dynasty), there is a well-developed online mode, filled with thousands of gamers every night, and one of the best online dynasty/franchise modes released to-date that will keep the gamer coming back to NCAA Football 11 well past the bowl season. There are also 120 different teams, downloadable rosters, TeamBuilder, and Road to Glory mode to fill those Friday nights before Saturday’s big game.

Replayability Rating: Incredible

Balance

Something I loved about NCAA Football 11 was not only how every game felt different, but also how every school felt different. When I was playing against Connecticut, it was a completely different, and easier experience, than when I was playing against Boise State. In-conference games seemed to be a bit harder as well, and this is how it should be. As the weeks progress, each game has more meaning when attempting to get a BCS bid, and the pressure amps up, making the games tougher; the difference between week one and week fourteen is dramatic, exactly as it is in reality.

There is also a large set of difficulty sliders that can help tweak the difficulty for more advanced players. If someone feels that Heisman difficulty is almost right, but that the kicking game is too difficult, they can go into the sliders options and boost up field goal accuracy and field goal power to help offset this problem. Another example would be if someone is having an easy time passing the ball, but can’t gain more than 20 yard a game on the run. This person could go in and bump up halfback speed, or the breaking tackles option, and then they can find their perfect game. This is an option for more advanced players to mess with, and although I haven’t found a need for these yet, I might in the future.

Essentially, if I am playing as Eastern Michigan University, I should have a near impossible time beating Alabama, and there are enough difficulty sliders available in the game to make this happen for just about any player that is willing to mess with the sliders. Out of the box, however, the game offers four different difficulty options that will work just fine for the majority of those that play the game.

Balance Rating: Good

Originality
I am not going to spend a lot of time here: NCAA Football 11 is the eighteenth game in a series of college football titles that have been coming out every year since 1993. There is nothing original about this game. EA Tiburon was not aiming to be original, but to reignite the passion of college football fans everywhere, just like they try and do every July.

Originality Rating: Worthless

Addictiveness

I love chasing after titles in sports games, be they Little League baseball championships, the Stanley Cup, or the BCS Championship, and NCAA Football 11’s Dynasty mode is the perfect drug for this obsession. Recruiting keeps my mind active while trying to nab the best prospects my team can attract, and the gameplay is good enough to make every game feel special. The fact that any game could come down to the wire and become an ESPN Instant Classic is great. Games are not short, but they are fun enough to get multiple games done in one sitting as the hours disappear.

College football fanatics will find a ton to enjoy with NCAA Football 11, and will want to come back to it to win the BCS National Championship as quickly as they can. Once they win the AFCA National Championship trophy the first time, they will want to keep winning it, over and over again.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

Appeal Factor

Sports gamers often have a negative stigma from the rest of the gaming community, and the genre is generally looked down upon. Amongst this group of gamers, though, are some of the most diehard gaming fans on the planet. These people will spend hundreds of hours changing player gear in order to make every player on the team match their real-life counterpart perfectly. They will spend even more time perfecting their recruiting boards and finding the perfect play to pick apart the defense on Saturdays. These gamers are a committed crowd, and NCAA Football 11 will unquestionably appeal to this group.

NCAA Football 11 is also a game that will appeal to any casual gamer who is a college football fan. I teach classes at West Virginia University, and I attend most home games at Milan Puskar Stadium, and I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that there are a ton of college football fan gamers on this campus. I can only assume that this number stays high across most of America, and that means this game will sell extremely well.

Appeal Factor Rating: Good

Miscellaneous

It is no secret that football is a dangerous sport, and every time the players step out on the field they risk life-threatening injuries. The same can be said for the electronic players of NCAA Football 11. One thing I started hating more and more as my Dynasty progressed was the way the game handles injuries. I am not the type of guy who sits around watching every replay, and all the cut scenes between snaps because I want to get to the action, and I am sure I am not alone in this. Unfortunately, EA Tiburon has designed it so that the only way to know if a player gets injured immediately is by watching these between-play cut scenes. Nothing pops up on the screen, nor do the announcers mention that “wide receiver X has gone down and trainers are looking at him” unless the gamer waits through the scenes. All of the sudden, when I think I am running a slant to the right with my Heisman candidate halfback, the ball ends up in my 2nd string, freshman halfbacks hands and the play gets stopped dead. I hated this, and I do not understand why EA Tiburon hasn’t given us another way of knowing immediately that a player has been injured. It isn’t until a couple snaps later that a box pops up asking the gamer if they want to bench or play the injured player that I know why my player has been substituted out. This is something that needs addressing, and I would love to see EA fix this in a patch instead of waiting until next year’s game releases.

Anyone that has been playing the NCAA Football series for at least the past couple years will indubitably notice the new game camera that EA Tiburon has developed. While this is not drastically different, it is noticeable and took me a couple drives to get used to. The camera is pulled up and out a little bit to give the gamer a better view of the field. This actually works really well, and gives the gamer more control over the gridiron.

Whenever I come across a glitch in a game, no matter how small, I feel it is important to make note of it. Before the latest patch was released, I was playing week one of Dynasty mode and the game was getting near the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter. My quarterback scrambled for a first down, and then went to slide. On his way down, the ball was knocked loose and it was declared a fumble. This is when one of the weirdest glitches I have ever encountered in a sports title kicked in: the ball couldn’t be picked up by any of the 22 players on the field. Instead, as the big mass of people gathered around the ball, diving at it, the ball just moved around the field. The clock continued to tick until the time ran out completely. The whistle wasn’t blown until finally, after about five minutes of me watching this, the ball managed to make its way out of bounds. This was a one-time deal, and hasn’t happened since the patch was released, but it’s important in documenting my experience with the game.

As most people know college sports titles are not legally allowed to use real players names, and generally stick to only their likenesses. So instead of Noel Devine being the halfback for WVU, “HB #7″ shows up on his jersey and in the depth charts (though the attributes are akin to the real-life player). However, thanks to the devoted fans of college football and the NCAA Football series, rosters using player’s real names have been available since the first week of the game’s release. In the past, getting these real names on the roster proved difficult and costly, requiring multiple sources to transfer the data from a PC hard drive to the Xbox 360’s hard drive. That is no longer an issue, and the EA Locker is back from past games to allow any user with an internet connection and Xbox Live to download another user’s uploaded roster. This is a great feature, and even though it isn’t new to the series, it still deserves mention for anyone like me that cannot stand playing the game without up-to-date rosters and real names. This is an invaluable feature for some, but others – the casual and family gamers – will likely have much use for it.

Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre

The Scores
Story/Modes: Good
Graphics: Good
Sound: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Incredible
Balance: Good
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
NCAA Football 11 is another positive entry in EA Sports’ storied franchise. Though I doubt this will be the best in the series for more than a year, it’s still worth the upgrade from last season for the core gamers, while the casual front will probably be happy holding on to NCAA Football 10 for an extra year. There have been no big improvements in game modes, but the new control system and gameplay tweaks make this one a must-play for college football fans across the country.

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